Monday, 9 May 2011

What’s Cornish For Fatwa?

Today's post is a guest post by author pal Simon Forward, one of the little band of writers I've kept in touch with since Authonomy - and the only one I've managed to meet face to face, Simon is a naturally funny bloke who brings his humour very much to bear in his writing - his mad sci-fi fantasy Evil UnLtd was the first book to get him up to the giddy heights of the Authonomy Editor's Desk and he went on to repeat the feat with kids' book Kip Doodle And The Armchair Of Lost Dreams. To date he's the only author to have been twice authonomised, although I'm told the swelling went down soon after.

If you have a Kindle (or the Kindle PC reader, which is surprisingly usable, BTW), you can buy your very own copy of what is now to be known as 'The Controversial' Evil UnLtd for £1.99 from Amazon UK by clicking here or for $3.19 from by clicking here or Smashwords by clicking here.

Hang on! Controversial? Yes, read on...

I’m writing to you from a dingy attic room in a secret location, somewhere in the South West of England. I’ve stocked up on canned foods, bottled water, all the basic essentials, because I expect to be here for some time.

Ordinarily I like to write in a nice open public space, especially my favourite local café, but I fear I can no longer safely venture out as I have been targeted by extremists.

It’s not something you expect to happen here in this fairly sedentary part of the world. There are such things as Cornish Nationalists, but nobody can take a separatist movement seriously when our key industries – tourism and fishing (and, once upon a time, mining) – are all in decline (or consigned to history books and sighing recollections). But never underestimate your ability to inadvertently upset some fundamentalist wherever you live in this 21st century world of ours. That would appear to be the lesson I should have learned.

What did I do to incur this wrath? Well, I wrote a book. And now I am the Salman Rushdie of the South West.

It’s a comedy, in which villains are the heroes, entitled Evil UnLtd (Vol I: The Root Of all Evil). It is, I suppose it’s fair to say, in a similar vein to the late great Douglas Adams’ The Hitch-Hiker’s Guide To The Galaxy. On the front cover, it bears the tag line, The Farce Of The Dark Side.

I should have foreseen the consequences.

At a recent book-signing for the paperback edition, one gentleman asked me if it was “a proper fiction book, or an actual philosophy of Evil”. I didn’t even know there was such a thing – although part of me felt like I ought to write one. Similarly a woman in my local cafe expressed an aversion to the whole notion of a book about bad guys. These were only the warning signs and I foolishly disregarded them as just amusing anecdote material.

Since then, however, matters have escalated to a far more serious level. Certainly the situation is no longer a laughing matter.

It began with a threatening email. In the most abusive language imaginable, it told me to vacate my home county of Cornwall. The email seemed to me to be typed in the semi-illiterate fashion of one of those people versed in little more than txt-spk.

Those of a squeamish nature look away now:

you fuck shit: i'm on to you: get out of cornwall and your budis: or feel the pain:--

Simon Forward in hiding in a remote Cornish location 
wearing a disguise mustardy shirt so nobody'll spot 'im.

I was concerned and shaken by the harshness of the message, hurled at me out of the blue by some random stranger. But ultimately, with no other explanation offering itself, I concluded that it must be some bizarre form of spam that had slipped through the standard filters, with the specific reference to Cornwall being simply an odd coincidence. Surely it couldn’t actually have been directed at me personally, I naively thought.

It was followed by a second but frankly unintelligible email, including one of those links you know never to click on, which served to confirm the spam theory in my mind.

At around the same time, on a visit to my café for another session of cappuccino-fuelled creativity, I noticed – with some dismay – that my stack of business cards, which my friend, the manageress, had kindly allowed me to display on the counter, had been mysteriously depleted. No member of staff had been responsible – they all like me – but someone had evidently taken it upon themselves to remove the cards and destroy or otherwise dispose of them.

Having decided not to let it bother me, the email was already behind me at this point and far from my thoughts, so I never connected the two incidents.

Until last Saturday, when I received a phone call on my mobile. I failed to answer the ring quite in time, but although it was an unknown number I rang the caller back.

The fellow who picked up sounded awkward, as though as though having something difficult to say but not quite sure if he had his speech prepared. Eventually, he proceeded to explain that the reason he had called was to apologise, because he had thought I was “actually promoting evil.” But he had since determined that I had in fact only been promoting a book.

Horrifying realisation dawned and I said, “So you were the one who sent me that abusive email.”

He confessed. And I also knew in that instant that he had been the one to attack that display of business cards, since they carry information on both my email address and my mobile phone number. About a hundred other questions and/or remarks struggled to emerge from me at that point, but I ultimately settled for shaking my head in disbelief. A gesture that perhaps doesn’t communicate itself too well over the phone, but maybe some hint of it crept into my tone. In any case, the culprit reiterated his apology and stated that, obviously, he wasn’t the sort to stand for genuinely bad people but he now realised his mistake. He went on to say that he might check out a sample of my book online.

Feeling that most of the comments I wanted to make at that point would only have exacerbated matters, I decided to end the call with a simple thank you for his apology.

Several thoughts occurred to me in the silence after hanging up.

First, that those business cards also bore the tag line, The Farce Of The Dark Side, in a larger font than any of the contact information. There were clear references to the fact that I was an author and that Evil UnLtd was a “New Series from Galaxy 6 Broadcasting, available on Kindle from Amazon and other ebook formats from” On the reverse of the card, there’s also a line-up of (computer-generated) comic mug-shots of the (entirely fictional) characters who feature in the series. Most prominent is the logo, a sort of business plaque, incorporating a cartoony performance graph with a broken devil’s fork.

It beggared belief that any thinking human being could interpret that as the promotional material of an actual evil organisation, but even if that was their first impression, I had to wonder why they wouldn’t simply investigate the listed links to, I don’t know, check their facts before launching into their campaign of protest.

Second, they might have paused to consider that actual evil organisations don’t tend to proclaim themselves as evil. More often than not, in fact, they tend to claim to have God or good on their side, while perhaps criminal organisations might admit to a measure of self-interest. Rarely, if ever, in the real world, do they own up to evil, let alone include it in their official logo.

Clearly now, the individual has apologised and I should be free to feel safe once more. But naturally enough I’m now concerned that there are others out there who may object to my bringing Evil with a capital E (aka laughter) into the world and – even in this ostensibly idyllic setting of Cornwall – find more aggressive ways to express their righteous anger. I used to enjoy the fact that ours was such a relatively small community where so many people knew everyone. Now, I worry that this could work very much against me as I struggle to promote my humble humorous offerings. Am I about to have a Cornish fatwa on my head? Imprisoned in my own home, fearful of venturing out, will add further challenges to the already-difficult task of book-promotion.

Of course, I should feel grateful that there are people out there willing to fight evil in the world, without regard for their own safety or indeed the facts, but I would much prefer if they would at least look past a book title before embarking on their crusade. To the best of my knowledge, Douglas Adams based his most famous work on his experiences hitch-hiking around Europe and not around the likes of Betelgeuse as the title originally implied.

Failing that, if these people are going to burn my books, I can only hope that they will please buy a copy for the purpose. Despite the name, the Kindle version is not ideal for this and I do recommend the very reasonably priced paperback.

And if my life is in danger, well, I do have one idea to cheat the nutters of their goal. As an absolute last resort, I can always die laughing before they get to me...
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iCowboy said...

I assume you've leaked this chilling story to The Cornishman where it might just knock 'Parsnip outrage' or 'Three people have quite a nice time last Sunday afternoon' off the front page.

Actually, don't think of it so much as a fatwa as a marketing opportunity.

I bet you that Salman Rushdie's royalties soared as soon as the Ayatollah's put a death threat out against him. People were buying up copies of 'The Satanic Verses' by the tens of thousands despite it being a nominee for the 'Worst book not written in crayon by Jeffery Archer' award.

In fact if I were you, I'd be mailing copies out to the the book reviewers for Hezbollah, the Iranian government and whoever it is that's running al-Qaeda whilst they whittle down the candidates for a recently vacated management position. Let's be honest, if you're going to get yourself threatened - get threatened by the pros.

Phillipa said...

Yeah, take your mustard and get out of Cornwall! And keep yer stinkin' yellow condiment off our pasties!

I knew you had a subversive, transgressive streak in you, Si, but I didn't realise just how deeply it ran. Bravo!

SAF said...

Marketing opportunity... now there's a thought. I have written to the Cornishman, as a matter of fact. We'll see if they do anything with the story, or whether they are in the pay of the fanatic fringe :-) (Or the parsnip growing fraternity, come to that.)

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